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Uyghurs find China’s ‘cultural nourishment’ campaign hard to stomach

Analyst Hu Ping says China is ‘forcibly imposing an outside culture on local people.’

by Mihray Abdilim


Shohrat Zakir (2nd from L), chairman of northwestern China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and officials watch Uyghurs perform a culture dance before a press conference at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, July 30, 2019.

Associated Press

The promotion of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s theory of “cultural nourishment” by Uyghurs at this year’s session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament points to new efforts to supplant the culture of the Uyghurs with Chinese customs and traditions, Uyghur and Chinese analysts said.

The 2022 sessions the National People’s Congress (NPC), and its advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) wind down this week. The largely symbolic meetings ratify decisions made by the Communist Party, which allows no opposition.

Slogans from an address to parliament by Xi — including “cultural nourishment” and the “consciousness of the whole of the Chinese nation” — were immediately promoted by pro-government representatives from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), drawing scorn from the Uyghur diaspora.

One CPPCC representative, ethnic Uyghur dancer Dilnar Abdullah, advocated the further strengthening of the theory of cultural nourishment proposed by Xi and spoke in favor of “investment into the culture and arts of the ethnic groups,” according to a report on Tengritagh (Tianshan), the official website of the XUAR government.

In her speech, Dilnar emphasized that current research into the theory of culturally nourishing Xinjiang was insufficient, and that educational textbooks did not adequately reflect Chinese cultural tradition, particularly for young people.

The Tianshan report quoted Dilnar as promoting introducing “consciousness of the unity of the Chinese nation” in textbooks at all levels to educate and cultivate artists in Xinjiang, and to bring Chinese classical poetry, literature, and painting into schools there to “weave cultural nourishment into school education.”

The Chinese government’s use of Uyghurs like Dilnar to promote the adoption of Chinese culture in Xinjiang is an old and familiar tactic, said Ilshat Hassan Kokbore, the U.S.-based vice chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC).

“The Chinese government uses them, so of course they champion ethnic unity,” he said. “What they’re calling cultural nourishment here is assimilation by means of Chinese culture.”

Ilshat noted that Dilnar is the daughter-in-law of Ismail Amat, a politician of Uyghur ethnicity who held several political positions, including chairman of the XUAR and chairman from 1979 to 1985, and minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission from 1986 to 1998.

Some Uyghurs viewed Amat, a prominent Muslim Communist Party member, as a mouthpiece of the Chinese government and its policies concerning ethnic minorities and condemnation of separatist tendencies.

Ilshat called Dilnar and other Chinese government appointees “puppets” — officials who have faithfully carried out Beijing’s policies.

“She is a puppet of China, Dilnar Abdullah,” he said. “We can say she is a tool of theirs. If they tell her to do something, she does it. In this way, the Chinese government can say they’re doing things that Uyghurs themselves want.”

‘In danger of disappearing’

U.S.-based political commentator Hu Ping told RFA that Xi’s cultural nourishment is tantamount to cultural destruction.

The government’s emphasis on this concept and that of the “unity of the Chinese nation” are aimed at eradicating the ethnic identities of non-Chinese groups, including Uyghurs and Tibetans, and forcing them to adopt Han Chinese cultural identity with an end goal of eliminating so-called “threats to stability,” he said.

Hu Ping also noted that the Chinese government is using Uyghur-speaking government officials and other individuals to promote the idea of cultural nourishment as a way of forcing Uyghurs to give up their ethnic and cultural identities.

“What they’re calling cultural nourishment here is in fact forcibly imposing an outside culture on local people,” he said. “For that reason, we can call this a forcible assimilation of local people, or a destruction of the traditional culture of local people.”

This is one way they believe they can fulfill the duty of social stability, Hu added.

Zubayra Shamseden, Chinese outreach coordinator at the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project and vice president of WUC, said Sinification is the goal of the cultural nourishment policy and others because the Chinese government sees Uyghurs as a threat to stability and wants to eliminate them.

“If they are able to assimilate the Uyghurs and make them all Chinese — if Uyghurs are all Chinese — then, according to the logic of the Chinese regime, China will be peaceful,” she said.

“We are a people in danger of disappearing, and so China is using puppets like these in order to fully realize its rule over and colonization of us,” Zubayra added.

For years, Chinese authorities have subjected Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang to arbitrary arrests and detentions in internment camps, physical abuse, and restrictions on their religious practices and culture in what the United States and legislatures of several other Western countries say amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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